Casting Pilot Season: Who's In, Who's Out and Who'd Never

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This story first appeared in the Feb. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

With pilot season under way, Hollywood’s talent community is dusting off its résumés and readying for its ego boost.

The actors most in-demand fall into a handful of categories. First are those who are being wooed by many but unlikely to accept, a group that includes Friday Night LightsKyle Chandler and X-Men’s James Marsden (more likely to do cable), as well as Little Miss Sunshine’s Greg Kinnear, BridesmaidsRose Byrne and Up in the Air’s Anna Kendrick (more likely to do movies). Then there are those expected to accept one of multiple projects: Rome’s James Purefoy, who at press time had four offers and has since nabbed a role opposite Kevin Bacon in Kevin Williamson's Fox drama, along with comedy draw Justin Long. Next come those weighing a single offer who could potentially say yes — among them movie stars like Jane Fonda, in talks for an NBC comedy. And finally, the subset that is being approached but nobody expects to say yes; they include Richard Gere, Ed Harris and Hugh Grant.

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When Bacon, the season¹s biggest get to date, accepted a role in Williamson's serial killer drama, agents trying to entice their film actors to do TV saw it as ammunition. “We use him as an example. Kevin Bacon is the sell now,” says one, who also cited The Corrections’ and House of Cards’ landing of Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey, respectively.

Those agents, along with network execs, are pushing the idea that while TV no longer pays Friends money, it offers steady income for comparatively meaty fare. Top talent can make $100,000 to $125,000 per episode, with exceptions such as Bacon, Martin Lawrence and Kiefer Sutherland able to earn as much as $175,000 a show over a 22-episode first season, say sources. That becomes particularly alluring when big-screen possibilities depressingly consist of sequels and comic book adaptations.

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Still, as several agents point out, feature stars haven’t flooded to broadcast, despite the scramble to cast more than 80 pilots. Add in the fact that everything is being picked up late — with the usual delivery dates still in effect — and the panic becomes keen on both sides of the table. “They’ll make one giant shot at someone, and then they’ll move on to the JoAnna Garcias and Andre Braughers,” says one source, referencing two in-demand “TV stars” who already have landed gigs.

Reps for name actors who are receptive are being picky about the bets they’re making, and more significantly where those bets are made. “Are you reluctant to take an actor to NBC? The project has got to be really f---ing good,” says one agent, noting the network’s basement-dwelling ratings status; another echoes that thought, adding that he wouldn’t put a big actor at ABC either because “there are too many ABC shows to know what the good one is.”

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